Imam Bayildi


‘The Imam [or priest] fainted’ is the literal translation of the name for this Turkish dish of cold tomato-stuffed aubergine. It is odd how many cultures have dishes called things to do with clerics and their fondness for the table. The Italians, for example, have a dish of spinach and ricotta dumplings called ‘priest-throttlers’.

In the case of this dish the Imam was so taken with how delicious the aubergine tasted he swooned, presumably after eating rather too many of them.


  • 6 small purple-black smooth skinned and plump aubergines
  • 450 g/ 1 lb onions, thinly sliced
  • 4 garlic cloves, smashed and chopped
  • 6 tbsp olive oil
  • 6 ripe plum tomatoes, peeled and chopped
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 4 tablespoons chopped flat leaved parsley
  • juice of 1 lemon


Cut off both ends of the aubergines. Forget about all this salting nonsense: if the aubergines are old and bitter, no amount of salting is going to change them for the better. Peel off 1-cm / ½-inch wide strips lengthwise to produce a striped effect. Cut down through one side the length of each aubergine, being careful not to cut all the way through.

Fry the onions and garlic gently in 4 tablespoons of the olive oil until soft and translucent. Add the chopped tomatoes, season with salt, pepper and the sugar and continue to cook, stirring, until the water in the tomatoes has evaporated. Stir in the parsley, add the lemon juice and leave to cool.

Put the remaining oil in another pan and fry the aubergines over a moderate heat to seal them, turning to brown lightly all over. Remove and drain.

Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/ gas 6. When the aubergines are cool enough to handle, carefully open each aubergine along the cut and spoon in as much stuffing as you can. Then arrange them, cut side up, in an ovenproof dish just large enough for them to sit snugly in a single layer without falling over. Spread any remaining stuffing over the top, pour over 300 ml/ ½ pint of cold water and cover loosely with foil.

Bake for about 45 minutes, when they should be tender but not collapsing. Check from time to time that they have not dried out, adding a little more water if needed. Take out and leave to cool, serving at room temperature as a first course.